Monday, November 25, 2013

Post-Postmodernism: What's Next?

I don’t think we’ll ever completely separate ourselves from postmodernist notions. After all, some postmodernist ideas have been percolating around in discourses of consciousness and meaning-making processes at least since Dante’s 13th-century Letter to Cangrande della Scalla in which the author (presumably Dante) discusses the fact that his work is polysemous. He expounds upon that notion and discusses four types of meanings which result in multiple strategies for interpreting texts.

Further, if postmodernist expanded the notion of “text” to include signs, natural phenomena, and more, well, we’ve had that in our consciousness ever since early Babylonian astrologers. In terms of creating patterns and developing codes / numerical strategies for text interpretations, we’ve certainly had that since Jewish gematria, and then also Kabbalistic practices.

This is not the place to develop a genealogy of postmodernist thoughts. I would love to do so, but I don’t want to deviate from the central idea, which is to say that for the last 10 or 20 years, theorists of all sorts have been attempting to declare postmodernism has declared officially “over” – and have proposed a wide array of alternative theories, many of which have to do with culture, technology, gender, and ethics.

There are aspects of postmodernist thought that I find very useful and I would not want to give them up. For example, I don’t want to give up some of the more interesting notions of reality and reality construction.

Perhaps it’s not productive to say that the world is completely an illusion, but it’s fun to think so. I also like the social constructivist ideas, especially when connected with power. For example, I have to say that I agree when Foucault and Baudrillard suggests prisons exist not only to enforce behavioral norms, but also to delude us into thinking that there is a “free” world and that “freedom” is an absolute, when in reality, there are all kinds of constraints to our freedom, beginning with language itself, and ending in behaviors, beliefs, and values that may be, in essence, coercive.

I think it is interesting that many of the new ideas of post-postmodernism have much to do with new technologies and the impact on identity (digital communities), selfhood (genetic engineering), privacy (Internet, surveillance, UAVs), communication (communications technologies), understanding the world (computing, Big Data), and more.

In fact, once one uses technology as the primum mobile of consciousness and global epistemological constructs, it’s easy to see how a next logical step would be a preferential shift to technocratic social organization, from individual communication to bodies politic. The implications could pretty scary. Technocracies are notoriously dehumanizing, especially when combined with command economies or oligopoly-tending capitalistic economies.

Here are a few recent ideas:

Pseudo-modernism / digimodernism: Digital technology can dismantle persistent postmodern issues such as “existential uncertainty” and “artistic anti-essentialism.” Kirby argues that the post-postmodern generation reverts to modernism, at least in the sense that there is a renewed belief in agency and in individual ability to influence others (by means of technology).  See Kirby (2009) Digimodernism: How New Technologies Dismantle the Postmodern and Reconfigure our Culture.

Automodernism:  Robert Samuels argues that new technology allow a new level of neutrality to emerge. At the same time, postmodernist identity “flux” is supplanted by new, hardened identity politics.

Complexism:  Philip Galanter has created a fusion of technology and the arts; it has been suggested that he echoes and updates the Russian and Italian Futurists (who were certainly pro-technology, with the idea that technology helps establish a coherent New World Order. Some of the enthusiasm died in WWI and in the early Soviet Union.

Hypermodernism:  Hypermodernism, coined in the 1990s, is a chaotic, high-intensity, fast-paced world of rapid and always evolving identity and social relationships. The hypermodern is not characterized by indeterminacy (as would the postmodernist world), but in quick moments of stasis, followed by discrete, lenticular “pods” of culture / socioeconomic / socio-political ontology.

Altermodernism: Nicolas Bourriaud embraces alterity and takes it further, suggesting that the creolization of our cultures in the global context will create a universal aesthetic. Multiculturism is worn out. The next stage is the “creole” (which will probably change, given the colonialist overtones implicit in the word itself.)


Alighieri, Dante. Letter to Can Grande della Scala. Accessed November 13, 2013

Awet (2013). Other Post-Postmodernisms: A Glossary. Heterodoxia. April 2013. Accessed Nov 15, 2013.

Kirby, A.  (2009) Digimodernism: How New Technologies Dismantle the Postmodern and Reconfigure our Culture. London, NY: Continuum Publishers.

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